2019 World Breastfeeding Week Low-Key in Ďelta

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Omon-Julius Onabu in Asaba

As activities marking the 2019 World Breastfeeding Week (WBW), which kicked off across the globe last week, were concluded on Wednesday with the absence of the usual busy programme of activities to commemorate the annual event in Delta State, especially at the local government community level, which forms the critical segment of the population.

The World Breastfeeding Week, which is an initiative of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), is celebrated yearly from 1st-7th August, and it is aimed primarily at promoting the sound physical and mental health of the newborn through recommended regular breastfeeding exclusive of water and breast-milk substitutes for six months.

The theme of this year’s WBW is ”Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding: Now and for the Future”, with the WABA’s global breastfeeding protection, promotion and support Week being aligned to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as WBW-SDGs since 2016, with emphasis on increased teamwork for effective breastfeeding globally.

THISDAY checks indicated that the current political transition in Delta State (like most states in Nigeria), following post-election changes in the state’s ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), drastically affected the ability of the relevant authorities to organise activities like workshops, road-shows, ‘baby-shows’ and breastfeeding clinics around this year’s WBW in the state.

Specifically, the management boards of different state agencies and departments, which were dissolved by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa at the end of his first term in office, are still being reconstituted while those appointed to the new State Executive Council, including the commissioner for health, were yet to settle down when the WBW commenced.

The only major healthcare-related activity during the duration of the WBW was the commissioning of a primary healthcare facility in Akwuku-Igbo in Oshimili North Local Government Area, built through private effort of an indigene of the area, which is expected to accommodate a Nutrition Unit.

However, THISDAY investigation showed that local people in many communities were conversant with the benefits of regular breast milk for the newborn, particularly the practice of exclusive breastfeeding of newborns within the first six months from the baby’s birth, as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and promoted extensively by the UNICEF through various sensitization programmes and stakeholder advocacies.

Although, the local health officials and some nursing mothers who spoke with THISDAY at Akwuku-Igbo and Ogbe-Obi Community, both in Oshimili North Local Government Area of the state, expressed dismay at the lack of activities to celebrate the WBW, they said that more and more nursing mothers had embraced exclusive breastfeeding of their babies with evident cooperation of their husbands and other close relatives.

According to Mrs Tina Amaka Bienichi, a Senior Nursing Officer (CNO) at Akwuku-Igbo Primary Healthcare Centre, the breastfeeding campaign, promoted previously by UNICEF and the state government, has also enjoyed the full complement of the enthusiastic response of nursing mothers (with 30-45 attendance) to the weekly Immunization Day held at different health centres in the local government area.

At the Oshimili North Local Government Comprehensive Centre, Ogbe-Obi Quarters in Okpanam, Mrs Uju Ishakwue, who works in a ‘business and ICT centre’ in the locality, told THISDAY that she had no regrets about having exclusive breastfeeding for her firstborn, Great Ishakwue, now about one year and five months old, adding that she was able to breastfeed the boy with minor distractions while at her workplace.

Similarly, Mrs Chinagorum Okonkwo, said that she was able to complete the exclusive breastfeeding of her (now eight months old) son, Chimagorum, despite the fact that she was a student, because she recognised the numerous health benefits of the practice after her experience with her first daughter.

”I decided to do exclusive breastfeeding for my daughter, Oluchukwu (now one year and eight months old), because they told us about the many benefits at antenatal class at the Ogbe-Obi health centre, and I’m happy my baby is well and sharp”, Mrs Tessy Nwapuzu said.

Nutrition Officer, Delta State Primary Health Care Development Agency, Mr Benson Etche said, ”We as parents, caregivers, governments, husbands, family members, caregivers and government at different levels are encouraged to empower breastfeeding mothers in every aspect, to embrace exclusive breastfeeding of the child (zero water) until six months of age; and, introduction of adequate complementary feeding with breastfeeding until 2years. This is due to the numerous benefits of breast-milk for optimal growth and development of the child.

Nevertheless, on the choice of the theme of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, the organisers (WABA) noted that although primarily in the domain of the nursing mother, breastfeeding goals are best realised ”when fathers, partners, families, workplaces, and communities support her.”

UNICEF further noted that, aside about US$300 billion in healthcare cost that could be saved globally, 833,000 Under-Five deaths and over 20,000 deaths due to breast cancer could be prevented with improved breastfeeding practice especially with parent-friendly support through deliberate workplace policies and societal norms.

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